Made to Create, Basics: The day I learned to shoot full manual

Made to Create, Basics: How I learned to shoot full manual in one day

You know what I don’t love? Small talk with strangers and parting with my money.

However, when my friend Chelle (of Chelle Nicole Photography) posted that she’d be offering a photography basics class with her buds Devon (of Devon Michelle Photography) and Candice (of Ivy & Tweed) I gave very little thought to handing over $149 right after Christmas when my bank account is still feeling the holiday sting. A split second prayer, a quick check-in with Bank of America, and one hastily filled out enrollment form and I was in.  These ladies are all a part of Made to Create: Pacific Northwest, whose “vision is to create authentic community of encouragement between artists located in the Pacific Northwest.”  You know what I do love? Talented people and community builders with generous hearts.

There was a line in that enrollment form that asked something like, “What do you hope to gain from this class?” and the hardest part of this whole process was restraining myself from typing “TELL ME ALL THE THINGS!!!!”  Last Summer, Chelle taught me a few of the things and it was a complete game-changer.  I learned about aperture, how to set my own focus points, and white balance but it killed me a little to know there were even MORE THINGS I could do. Sigh.

Pictures you’ve seen me post here (like these from Autumn and these from hunting season) were from this middle stage I lived in for awhile. Not on auto because I was on aperture priority mode, but not really on manual because I was still letting the camera make a ton of decisions for me. The camera was the boss in a lot of ways. And, BTW, another thing I don’t love is being told what to do.

Made to Create, Basics: How I learned to shoot full manual in one day

The first several months with my Canon Rebel T3i that thing was completely in charge of itself. Pick it up. Turn it on. Point it at the thing. Take the picture. Repeat. And none of those shots were terrible, but they all just sort of happened.  Enter: Chelle and aperture priority mode. Suddenly taking pictures was fun and I craved it. She let me in on how she captures sun flares and which types of light are her favorites. Now when I see that golden evening light starting and life has conspired to keep me in a late meeting or training, I feel quite a bit like a bird trapped behind a window: I just want OUT.

Still, there were moments when I could see the shot in my mind and my camera would just not cooperate. It was still deciding for me which ISO and shutter speed it felt like I wanted and I had no idea how to tell it otherwise.

Made to Create, Basics: How I learned to shoot full manual in one day

Oh, but not anymore, people!  Chelle, Devon, and Candice have set me straight! Do I know ALL the things? Nope. But I do know so many of the things that I feel like nothing is outside my grasp.

As a teacher, I know that one of the deepest stages of learning is being able to explain what you learned to someone else.  I am not there by a long shot, but I feel like I have a map to get me there, three awesome guides, and some supportive new travel partners.

Made to Create, Basics: How I learned to shoot full manual in one day

Here’s why this experience worked for me:

1. Small Groups + Hospitality. There were eleven students and three instructors. We met in a living room with coffee, tea, and lunch provided.  There isn’t a thing much more lovely in the world than warm beverages and like-minded people.  Well, that and the encouragement to try new things under the supervision of a compassionate professional.

2. Heart + Math.  I’ve looked up photography tutorials on the internet and I found that before long my own inner thought life began to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher.  Whah-wa wha-waaa wa-wa-wa-wa. The difference this time was in the combination of a solid foundation of the technical aspects and how to transfer that into more of a feeling than an equation.  Chelle, Devon, and Candice were truly there to help us figure it all out and cheer us on. Can I tell you what my shutter speed should be with an ISO at 200 and an aperture at 1.8? Nope. But I can use my light meter to figure something out and go from there. I can’t verbalize exactly why everything works like it does, but when something doesn’t work out I have a pretty good idea which buttons to fiddle with to start setting things straight.

3. Work + Play.  We spent some quality time in that room talking about numbers and equipment, but we also took that information immediately into the great outdoors.  I have to touch and do and see when I’m learning something new and having someone supportive right next to you to guide you through solving whatever problem you run across was incredibly valuable.

Made to Create, Basics: How I learned to shoot full manual in one day

And then, as luck would have it, the very next day had some beautiful sunshine!  I didn’t have any actual humans at my disposal, but I did have this awesome yard to play around in.  And play around in FULL. MANUAL. MODE. Like a boss.

Made to Create, Basics: How I learned to shoot full manual in one dayI discovered I love textures, like the old canvas above that hangs as a makeshift garage door for a shed out back.  They aren’t posted here, but I also took approximately three kajillion photos of the wood grain on the side of the boat house.  And I found several places I’d really love for someone to pose for me, once I can convince them to let me use them as a test subject.  Coffee? Cookies? Hugs? Whattya want, folks?  I need some faces.

Made to Create, Basics: How I learned to shoot full manual in one day

Like this road right here.  I want a couple in plaid standing partway up and holding hands with her head on his shoulder. Can’t you just see it? I’m telling you, get in my picture!

Made to Create, Basics: How I learned to shoot full manual in one day

I’ve also decided to be a little more bold about sharing pictures I’ve taken.  Sometimes it’s laziness, sometimes it’s overwhelming, and sometimes I don’t share what I’ve shot because they’re obviously not art if I took them. I’m just a ginger with a camera and a couple tricks. I’m not an “artist” in the way other people are. But I’m also pretty over not sharing things I love because I don’t think they’re good enough for some arbitrary and undefined standard.

All the shots in this post were from my first day shooting fully in manual mode and every single one was an experiment, but here they are. And I’m kind of proud of them.

10 thoughts on “Made to Create, Basics: The day I learned to shoot full manual

    • Thanks so much, Sarah! Those ladies really are amazing. And so are you, by the way! I just spent far longer than was reasonable for a work day cruising through your site and soaking up all your beautiful images.


  1. Aaah I need to take a class!!! I’ve been dying to learn those things as well! Would you recommend the camera you have? And did you buy it new or used? Your photos are beautiful and give me hope that I too can do it!! Loved your post. 🙂


    • Yay, Monica! You can totally do it! You’ve posted some amazing shots from around the DC area. Such a beautiful place. I do love my camera. I bought it new as part of a Costco bundle and it came with a couple lenses, a case, battery charger, etc. I’ve also added a 50 mm f/1.8 prime lens that’s pretty much what I always use. That guy’s from Amazon. 🙂 You should totally take a class! Make sure it includes lots of hands-on experience!


  2. So now you will publish 2books! One about your life adventures and one with beautiful images? Chelle doesn’t like me to call them pictures.


Thoughts? I'd love to hear 'em!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s